Published on May 31st, 2011 | by Sue Murphy3
Movie Review: X-Men: First Class
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Kevin Bacon
Following a poor third instalment in the trilogy and an equally pathetic attempt at an origins story, X-Men clearly screamed out for a reboot. However, with the vast amount of sequels, prequels, reboots and remakes already on the market, you would be entirely forgiven for wishing to sidestep the pain of watching some of the greatest comic-book characters repeat the previous mistakes of the last two releases. To this day, it is impossible to understand how Wolverine, possibly one of the most interesting and charismatic comic-book heroes, failed to make any sort of real impact at the box office, or indeed on the critics. So perhaps it was consoling to learn of the involvement of Bryan Singer as producer for First Class, the director that made X-Men and X-Men 2 so enjoyable and in their wisdom, Fox decided to sign Matthew Vaughn off the back of his success with Kick Ass.
X-Men: First Class is indeed a prequel, almost an origin story for Professor X and Magneto, after the latter’s solo tale was shelved; yet it had been intended to treat this instalment as a separate entity from the others, the new chapter in a new trilogy. Professor Charles Xavier (McAvoy), an expert on mutants, is enlisted to help Agent MacTaggart (Byrne) hunt down Sebastian Shaw (Bacon) and prevent him from causing the outbreak of the third World War. Xavier, a mutant himself, encounters Erik Lehnsherr (Fassbender) for the first time during the operation. An enemy of Shaw, he has his own personal motivations for pursuing the mission, and when Xavier unites a team of mutants for the cause, differences soon become obvious within the circle.
As simplistic as that plot may seem, First Class allows more than enough room to manoeuvre and meander without losing the viewer. Set against the backdrop of the 1960’s political upheaval, the framework is slowly built around Xavier, who for the first time, will unite mutants and bring them out into the open. For anyone who enjoyed the first two films in the trilogy, it is amazing to get some of the origin stories of the rest of the X-Men crew and of course, to get across the motivations for their characters in the future. McAvoy and Fassbender are electrifying as the opposing sides of the same coin, Xavier the perfectly sympathetic, truly good leader against Lehnsherr’s internal dilemmas that eventually spill over into the rest of the team. Lawrence delivers a wonderfully understated performance as the almost invisible backbone to McAvoy’s Xavier and Bacon does what Bacon does best, as the menacing and cruel enemy. First Class has been likened to the Bond films of the 60’s and although that comes across with strength in relation to the sets, Jones’ Emma Frost seems more of a Bond girl than a calculating telepath.
Yet, First Class not only manages to deliver a fine story with some truly amazing action sequences, it delves further into the characters and the world that surrounds them than it ever has before. Although the Cold War is the major political theme of the film, it cannot be ignored that running in parallel with this was the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, which has no doubt influenced the acceptance theme that runs throughout the film. It has been noted by other critics the likeness between Xavier and Martin Luther King, and Lehnsherr and Malcolm X. First Class follows the path laid down by the genre at the moment; a more serious and in-depth look at the world of the superhero, darker and set against real events. This latest instalment breathes new life into a franchise that was considered to be beyond resurrecting and there are few issues to take up with it. Perhaps the only suggestion is that the back-story between Professor X and Magneto is much more grounded in the comics and stretches back to their college days, but this will only get under the skin of the true X-Men geeks.
Although it is entirely possible to watch this independent of the other earlier chapters, you will be more than rewarded if you check in with them. A truly great summer blockbuster that will be tough to match.